Washington Heartened by President Rouhani's Decision to Engage in N-Negotiations

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Iran Review's Exclusive Interview with Alan Eyre
By: Kourosh Ziabari

The self-imposed November 24 deadline for the conclusion of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program is approaching, and the Iranian nation, as well as thousands of enthusiastic people across the world, are waiting to see if more than one decade of strife and conflict over Tehran's nuclear activities will finally come to an end or not.

President Hassan Rouhani's administration has shown its strong willingness and firmness to resolve the nuclear controversy through diplomatic channels and peacefully. Since he came to power in June 2013 presidential elections, Iran and the group of P5+1 (five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) held several round of intensive talks the lengthiest of which from July 2 to 20 lasted for 18 days. The interlocutors have failed to clinch a comprehensive deal by which all the economic sanctions imposed against Iran, including the UN Security Council sanctions and the U.S. and EU unilateral sanctions will be lifted and dismantled in return for complete transparency and confidence-building measures by Iran over its nuclear activities, including on such issues as the number of centrifuges it would need to operate.

The Western negotiating parties, despite their remaining differences with Iran, have praised Rouhani's negotiating team led by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for its seriousness and dexterity and its determination to engage in substantive talks. Several sticking points were removed and there are a few, but major issues on which Iran and the six world powers still disagree. However, it's highly probable that the two sides will eliminate each other's concerns or work out a deal which will satisfy the other party and benefit the whole international community. Even the pessimistic analysts who believe Iran and the P5+1 cannot sign a comprehensive deal before November 24, say that the ultimate failure of the talks does not mean that the room for diplomacy will be closed.

The U.S. State Department's Persian Language Spokesman Alan Eyre says that his government has received the message imparted by the government of President Rouhani, that Iran prefers the path of cooperation to the path of confrontation, and that it is trying to win the confidence of the international community.

"The good news is that the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran says it has chosen interaction (ta'amol) over confrontation (taqabol)," he told Iran Review in an exclusive interview. "If it fully follows this path of interaction and cooperation regarding the nuclear portfolio and we arrive at a final agreement - i.e. Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, sanctions will be lifted and the Iranian economy will again be reconnected to the global economy, and Iran will still have a nuclear program that meets its practical needs."

Alan Eyre is the Director of Iran Media and Public Diplomacy Office at the U.S. Embassy in London. Alan Eyre speaks Persian language fluently and usually posts Farsi posts on his Facebook page which is followed by more than 100,000 users. He had previously worked as a diplomat with the U.S. embassies in Syria, UAE and Azerbaijan and maintains a blog hosted by the U.S. Department of State, in which he responds to questions by the Iranian citizens about the U.S. foreign policy and the Iran-U.S. relations. Eyre is closely familiar with the Persian literature and uses a lot of slang and proverbs in his writings, although he said he has never visited Iran.

In an exclusive interview with Iran Review before the start of the latest round of negotiations in Vienna, Alan Eyre spoke to us about the U.S. government's position on the nuclear talks, the anti-Iran sanctions and the Iran-U.S. relations. You can read the full text of the interview below.

Q: Alan; in a December 2011 interview with BBC Persian, you had expressed concerns that Iran was not willing to take part in negotiations with the world powers over its nuclear energy program and did not abide by its "international obligations". However, now that Iran has shown willingness to participate in comprehensive and meaningful dialog, has the United States seized the opportunity to engage Iran diplomatically and find a viable solution to one of its most challenging foreign policy issues? If so, then why is there still talk about increased sanctions in the Congress after the signing of the Joint Plan of Action, and sporadic war threats against Iran by President Obama?

A: I think it is clear that both sides, Iran and the P5+1, are working seriously in this diplomatic process that could resolve the international situation that has arisen due to Iran's non-compliance with its NPT obligations, and the resulting concerns about the peaceful nature of its nuclear program. President Obama has made clear that he will not support increased sanctions while negotiations are moving forward and while the JPOA is still in effect. And there have been no 'threats of war' from President Obama. All he has said is that the US position is that Iran must not attain a nuclear weapon, that it must dispel international concerns about the nature of Iran's nuclear program, and that he vastly prefers to ensure this goal via diplomacy, no options are off the table.

Q: As stipulated by the Geneva interim accord, Iran has scaled back certain parts of its nuclear program, including the enrichment of uranium to the purity of 20%. The United States and the European Union are mutually expected to fulfill their commitments laid down in the Joint Plan of Action, which was just extended for a period of 4 months until November 24, including the removal of sanctions on Iran's petrochemical and auto industry sectors. However, many Iranian businessmen say that the restrictions still exist in these areas, and that no significant change has taken place in the state of the sanctions. What's your view on that?

A: I'd not heard that. What I do know is that Iranian officials have consistently said that both sides are fulfilling their JPOA obligations. Let's not forget however that private companies cannot be compelled into the Iranian market, and that many companies, although eager to return to Iran, are also eager to comply with the existing sanctions regime and as such are waiting to see if there will be a comprehensive nuclear agreement and a consequent lifting of sanctions before seeking to re-engage in business with Iran.

Q: The U.S. government, and the officials at the State Department usually assert that Washington supports the Iranian people's right of freedom and their quest for having a better, more prosperous life. However, the actions of your government contradict this claim. Google, Yahoo and Apple don't allow the Iranian people, even the Iranian citizens living in the United States, to use and buy many of their products and services, which I refer to as a technological apartheid. Many Iranian patients of chronic diseases die every year as a result of the unavailability of medicine and medical equipments which should be imported from the United States. Your government penalizes those European companies that sell aircraft spare parts to Iran, and you surely know about the high rate of civilian casualties resulting from the aviation accidents in Iran. How do you explain that? Isn't such an approach a collective punishment of the Iranian citizens?

A: All people either benefit or suffer from the actions of the governments that they form to represent their collective interests, and there is no doubt that the Iranian people are experiencing the consequences of the policies and positions that their own government has taken. Sanctions were only imposed by the international community because despite its best efforts, Iran would not comply with its NPT obligations and create sufficient international confidence in the peaceful nature of its nuclear program. As a result of this non-compliance with its NPT obligations, its lack of sufficient cooperation with the IAEA and the overall lack of transparency of its nuclear program, its file was referred to the UNSC for action, which has led us to where we are now. This is not just a US opinion, it is the opinion of the relevant international bodies, to include the IAEA and the UN, and the very effectiveness of the sanctions is a testimony to the unity of the international community regarding these concerns.

The good news is that the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran says it has chosen interaction (ta'amol) over confrontation (taqabol). If it fully follows this path of interaction and cooperation regarding the nuclear portfolio and we arrive at a final agreement - i.e. Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, sanctions will be lifted and the Iranian economy will again be reconnected to the global economy, and Iran will still have a nuclear program that meets its practical needs. 

Q: The election of moderate President Hassan Rouhani was a clear message by the Iranian people that Iran seeks cooperation with the international community and a peaceful approach for the resolution of the nuclear controversy. Has the U.S. government received the message, and is it mutually ready and determined to replace confrontation with cooperation and dialog?

A: Yes, we have received the message of President Rouhani's election: that the Iranian people want a change, that they want to be reconnected to the international community, that they want cooperation (ta'amol) instead of confrontation (taqabol). From day one, President Obama has been seeking a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue, as shown by his historic 2009 Nowruz message.

Q: Following some 35 years of frosty relations and an absence of diplomatic exchanges, the two sides agreed to allow meetings between Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the Secretary of State John Kerry. The two top diplomats conferred with each other several times, in New York and then in Vienna. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman also met Foreign Minister Zarif and deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi on a number of occasions. So, the diplomatic contact is being facilitated. Do you believe that such exchanges and meetings can lead to the emergence of a mutual understanding and the peaceful settlement of disputes and if yes, then how?

A: Yes, of course, I think that diplomatic contact is essential for the peaceful resolution of disputes and for bettering mutual understanding, which is one of the reasons I became a diplomat. The United States was heartened by the decision of the Rouhani administration to commit to the P5+1 negotiations, and we are hopeful that Iran will make the hard decisions it needs to make to assure the international community that Iran's nuclear program is and will remain exclusively peaceful.

Q: For the negotiations on the comprehensive deal to be successful, the United States and its European allies need to take a realistic approach. They have certain demands which they believe Iran should fulfill. But is a meaningful dialog and negotiation tantamount to one side making frequent demands and the other side making concessions repeatedly? Is the United States ready to back away from those demands which Iran says are excessive and unjustifiable, and making concessions on a reciprocal basis?

A: The P5+1 doesn't have 'demands' it is making of Iran, and certainly doesn't have excessive or unjustifiable ones. As I've said, the US, and indeed the international community, has serious concerns that it is seeking to address via the P5+1 negotiating process. President Obama has been quite clear about the US strategic goal in these nuclear negotiations: that Iran not to develop a nuclear weapon and that the international community gain full confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program. Iran has its own strategic goals, and what is happening during these negotiations, which are being conducted in an atmosphere of seriousness and goodwill, is that each side is trying hard to reach a solution, using creativity and hard work, that satisfies each side's concerns.

Q: Are you hopeful that Iran and the United States can work together to address their common concerns, including the rise of ISIL in Iraq, the stability and future of Afghanistan and drug trafficking in the country and the humanitarian crisis in Syria? Iran can be a reliable partner that had even offered to cooperate with the United States in 2003 over the security of Afghanistan, but was immediately responded by being branded as a part of the Axis of Evil by President Bush. What's your take on that?

A: I think that, as Iranian officials themselves have said, first let's reach an agreement on the nuclear issue, after which we can see if there are other areas where we have mutual interests and where we can cooperate. But first let us ensure that we can reach agreement on this nuclear issue, such that international concerns are met and sanctions can be lifted. Currently, as our Secretary of State Kerry has pointed out, although both the US and Iran understand the ISIL threat, we are not coordinating with Iran in this fight.

Key Words: Iran's Nuclear Program, US, President Hassan Rouhani, UN Security Council, P5+1, Unilateral Sanctions, EU, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Interaction, Confrontation, Iran-US Relations, Joint Plan of Action, Enrichment of Uranium, Iranian Citizens, Eyre